Preview: Learn the six simple steps to simplify homeschool planning so you can homeschool your children with confidence.
The most common questions I hear from parents about homeschool planning relate to what they need to teach.
There’s so much available. I don’t know how to narrow down what to use!
What do I actually have to teach?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to these questions. Every family and every child is different, and what you need to teach will vary by state. (You can find the requirements for your state at Home School Legal Defense Association.)
There are, however, some simple steps you can follow to guide you through the process of choosing the curriculum that is right for your family and planning your homeschool year.
In this article, you will find answers to the most common questions I hear about the planning process and learn how to simplify homeschool planning by breaking the planning process down into small steps.
How do I find time to plan our homeschool year?
Finding time to plan your homeschool year can be challenging given the demands on your time and energy. It helps me to keep in mind that this is my job, my profession.
To be an effective home educator, I need to set aside time to plan our homeschool year and evaluate our progress during and at the end of the year.
I set aside regular times to plan by scheduling homeschool teacher workdays to accomplish the following tasks:
- 20-40 hours per year planning for the upcoming homeschool year
- 15-30 minutes each week to schedule lessons for the upcoming week
- 30-90 minutes each week on teacher continuing education
- 1 hour each term planning term exams
- 1 hour each term evaluating and making adjustments to our plans
How To Schedule Homeschool Teacher Workdays
I complete the weekly tasks during my regular weekly planning time. The other tasks I complete during my scheduled homeschool teacher workdays.
I haven’t always scheduled teacher workdays. When we first started homeschooling, I tried to finalize details for the upcoming term during our term exam week and plan for the upcoming school year in my spare time.
What I discovered is that I felt frazzled trying to plan school lessons alongside normal activities. Then, one day I had a revelation. Teachers at traditional schools have “teacher workdays.” Well, duh, I could do the same thing! (Be sure to check your state’s laws first, but most have a provision for this.)
So now I schedule teacher workdays throughout our school year. I typically include one day near the end of each term to plan term exams, evaluate our progress, and plan the upcoming term. I also include a few days at the end of the year to plan the upcoming school year. You could also consider attending a homeschool convention or online workshop as a teacher development day.
You will probably not accomplish everything you need to do as a home educator during these scheduled teacher workdays. I don’t. But taking a few days off from planned lessons to focus on the administrative tasks associated with homeschooling can diminish your stress level significantly.
How can you schedule teacher workdays? There are many options, and which one you choose will depend on your circumstances. Here are a few ideas to help you think about how you might implement teacher workdays.
- Talk to your spouse about the importance of making time to plan. Discuss how you may need some time alone to think and process. Ask if you could go away for a day or a weekend or if your spouse or a grandparent could take the children on a field trip so you can have uninterrupted time to plan.
- Schedule a time when a friend can watch your children for a couple of hours. Then trade and allow her some time for a teacher workday.
- Find an interesting documentary for your children to watch.
- Schedule an annual planning weekend with friends. (Pro tip: Set a goal of what you want to accomplish during the weekend so you can stay focused and not spend too much time talking.)
- Allow your children to finish projects or work on individual interests.
6 Simple Steps To Plan Your Homeschool Year
1. Know your overall goals.
Before you begin planning your homeschool year, you should identify what you want to achieve. Different goals and objectives require different approaches and sometimes even different curriculums.
When you know what you want to achieve, you will have greater confidence to make decisions about your homeschool plans. You’ll be able to make choices that are right for each of your children.
I begin my yearly planning session by reviewing our homeschool mission statement to remember our reasons for homeschooling and the goals we want to achieve. I can identify areas we should focus on for the coming year to progress toward achieving our goals.
Your homeschool is unique!
God has a unique plan for your homeschool. He is not calling you to make your homeschool look like anyone else’s. It is okay to let go of the guilt and shame of comparison and embrace the struggles and unique challenges your family faces. It is okay to embrace the passions and gifts he has given your family.
Listen to episode 31 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, and hear how Becky Redman learned to thrive and walk in faith that God has a purpose for her family.
2. Create your school calendar.
Before I start planning any specifics, I determine our school calendar.
We prefer to have an extended break in the summer, so I schedule lessons five days a week for thirty-six weeks. Your family may prefer a four-day-a-week schedule for forty-five weeks, or you might want to plan academics for a four-day week and leave one day to catch up or take field trips.
The right choice is the one that works best for your family.
3. Prepare your yearly overview.
Now you are ready to start planning what your children will learn this year. Start by identifying the goals and objectives you want to accomplish for the year. I also take into consideration other factors that might warrant a lighter academic schedule.
Some questions I ask during this stage include:
- Will we have a focus on a particular subject?
- Should I schedule a lighter load due to upcoming changes (such as a move or a new baby)?
- Will we begin new activities (such as music lessons or a sport) that will affect our school schedule?
- Are there habits or skills my children need or want to learn?
Most importantly, I seek God’s wisdom and guidance. There have been years that I felt him leading me to plan a lighter year. Other years, I felt him pushing us a little. In both situations, the schedule was just right for us for that year.
How to use mind maps when planning your homeschool year.
I sometimes use mind maps during this stage of planning to help me see the big picture and how different subjects are related. They also allow me to think outside the box and remember that not all learning is academic.
A mind map is also referred to as a metacog, concept map, or cognitive cartography. I love that last term—cognitive cartography—because it reinforces the idea that whatever we are mapping is not two-dimensional, it has depth.
Benefits of mind maps
A mind map has many benefits, including that it:
- Creates a visual picture so you remember information better. After all, most of us think in pictures.
- Is unique to you and the way you think and process information.
- Allows you to organize information in a nonlinear way. You can branch out in any way you desire.
- Allows you to make connections and relationships with the information.
How to create a mind map
The first time you create a mind map, it can be intimidating, but it becomes easier the more you do it. Here are some guidelines for making a mind map.
- Start in the middle of the page.
- Use short phrases, not sentences.
- Draw thicker lines near the main idea and thinner lines as you move farther out on the map.
- Write in print, not cursive.
- Add color to the branches.
- Use a highlighter to emphasize key thoughts.
- Add sticky notes for important information you want to remember.
- Draw pictures, graphs, and diagrams.
- Make it unique to you.
You may be thinking, “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw pictures.” or “But I can’t use a pen! What if I make a mistake?” I had these thoughts as well, but I tried anyway. Even though they are rough and not beautiful, the pictures do add meaning to the map. And mistakes are part of life.
Here is a mind map I made for our 2016-2017 school year.
Choose the subjects you will cover.
Make a list of the subjects you want to cover, and include details such as the time period for history, the focus for science and nature study, and which artists and composers you will study.
Below is a list of subjects we cover in our homeschool. Before you look at the list, let me explain a few things.
- We do not cover every subject every day or even every week.
- Most lessons are short.
- We do not necessarily cover every subject every year.
- I try to include subjects to nourish the whole child—body, mind, spirit.
This is a list of possible subjects you might cover in your homeschool. You get to choose which ones you will include. (Obviously, check to ensure you meet your state’s requirements when determining which subjects you will cover in your homeschool.)
- Faith Building / Character
- Scripture Memory
- Hymn Study
- Character Development
- Habit Training
- Fine Arts
- Art Instruction
- Composer Study
- Folk Songs
- Foreign Language
- Music Instruction
- Picture Study
- Language Arts
- Reading Instruction
- Test prep (in high school)
- Life Skills & Handicrafts
- Computer / Typing
- Health / PE / Physical Activity
- Life Skills
- Nature Study
- US History
- World History
I use a spreadsheet to plan our lessons. I begin this step of the process by copying the yearly overview from the previous year and deleting the specific resources, so all that remains is the list of subjects.
Then, I delete any subjects we will not cover and add any we didn’t cover the previous year. Then I fill in basic details such as the time period in history, composers, artists, and poets.
Choose resources to use for each subject.
Next, choose resources for each subject if you are not using a boxed curriculum. It can be helpful to look through book lists and suggestions from other trusted sources. All Through The Ages by Christine Miller is a great resource to find living books for history and geography.
Also, I keep a list of resources I want to use in the future to refer to when I am planning.
4. Determine your weekly homeschool schedule.
Now that you have determined which resources you will use, design a draft of your weekly schedule. Decide which subjects you want to cover on which days and how long you expect each to take.
We rarely stick to this schedule precisely, but it helps me plan our school year in several ways.
- First, I can see when I have too much scheduled. I then have to decide what is most important for us to do and what I need to remove from the schedule.
- Second, I can see when each child needs my assistance and rearrange lessons as needed so that my children do not need my help simultaneously.
- Finally, I can make sure there is variety in their lessons in both content and brain activity. For example, I try not to schedule two readings in a row.
You can use a spreadsheet or sticky notes to plan your weekly schedule. Both allow you to move subjects around until you find an order that might work.
Keep the following considerations in mind when designing your weekly schedule.
- Keep lessons short. (10-20 minutes for grades 1-3, 20-30 minutes for grades 4-6, 20-45 minutes for grades 7-9, and 30-45 minutes for grades 10-12)
- Include time for narrations in the lesson length.
- Plan for breaks.
- Provide variety in lessons and change in brain function. For example, complete a history reading, then a math lesson, then a biography reading, then copy work or dictation.
- Always plan less because life happens.
- Include extracurricular activities so that you can see how much free time your child has.
At this point, I step back and look at the big picture again. Sometimes my idea of what I want to cover during a homeschool year does not align with the reality of what we can realistically accomplish.
5. Plan the specifics of your homeschool year.
There are several ways to plan the specifics of your homeschool year. You could plan which books you will read and what you will cover during each term. Or you could create procedure lists to use as a guide.
Initially, I planned the details for each term. This worked well, and we mostly stayed on track when we were primarily reading picture books together. But as my daughters began completing more of their lessons independently, this strategy did not work as well. Some resources were more challenging, and they needed more time to complete the reading.
Switching to using procedure lists allowed us more flexibility. I create a list of books and resources that I want to use for each subject and list them in the order they should be completed. I also include any instructions necessary for the subject.
When I assign lessons for the week, all I need to do is look at the procedure list to know what to assign. Sometimes, I only include the name of the subject on the assignment list because they know to complete the next lesson. Other times, I write out the details of the lesson if the assignment varies so that they don’t have to find the list of what to do.
6. Evaluate your progress.
Schedule time to evaluate your student’s progress at the end of each term and the end of the school year. I have not always completed homeschool evaluations, but they have become invaluable in our homeschool routine. Before planning the next term’s details, I sit down to evaluate how the term went and what, if anything, I want to change for the upcoming term.
Which homeschool planner should I use?
Finding the right homeschool planner can be a little like finding a good pair of jeans that fit like a glove and accentuate in all the right places. It can be a very frustrating experience!
I have used both paper and online planners, and there are benefits to both. The following questions can guide you through the process of finding the right planner for your homeschool.
- Do you want a paper planner or an online planner?
- Do you want a planner to be pretty?
- Do you like to write out my lesson plans?
- Do you get distracted when you turn on the computer?
- Do you want to make changes easier?
- Do you want your children to have a personal planner without having to rewrite everything?
- Do you want to print off your records at the end of the year?
- How old are your children?
- How much room do you need in a planner?
- How much flexibility do you need in a planner?
- Do you want large blocks of space in which to write, or are small spaces sufficient?
- What additional details or extras do you need to track?
- If you want a paper planner, what size planner do you want?
This video dives deeper into each of these questions.
Paper Planner Suggestions
- Anchored Women Homeschool Planner
- The Anchor for preschool
- The Primary Planner for grades 1-3
- The Practical Planner for grades 4 and up
Online Planner Suggestions
What homeschool records do I need to keep?
Always start by checking your state’s requirements to ensure you are keeping what is required by law!
Make record-keeping part of your planning process by setting up the skeleton of your yearly records when you are planning for the upcoming year. Here is a list of forms I set up:
- Yearly Overview
- Attendance – days or hours
- Community Service Hours
- Books Read
- Field Trips
- Teacher Training
At the end of the school year, I print the filled-in forms listed above. I also print off a record of work from an electronic planner (such as Asana or Homeschool Planet) or include my paper planner and all written narrations.
I also include pictures and samples of my children’s work by choosing an assignment for a subject from the beginning, middle, and end of the year to see their progress over the year.
Beginning in middle school, we begin updating two additional records:
- Resume Worksheet/Resume
On the resume worksheet, we record all activities, volunteer opportunities, work experience, awards, and any other information that might be useful to include in a resume or on an application. Include items such as:
- Education Related Activities
- Other Activities
- Skills Acquired
- Volunteer Experience
When they begin doing high school level course work (eighth grade for a class or two), we create their transcript.
By updating these two records as we go, we avoid the last-minute rush to remember what to include.
Listen to episode 76 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast to hear how I maintain these records without feeling overwhelmed, pitfalls to avoid, and what you can do if you fall behind on creating your child’s school portfolio.
How do I implement our homeschool plan?
You have a plan for your homeschool year, and you have a planner. How do you implement it? With all of the distractions of running a household and teaching multiple ages, it can be challenging to implement what you spent so much time planning.
I remind myself that I need to take it one step at a time and focus on making forward progress. When I view our homeschool journey as a marathon instead of a sprint, it is easier to roll with the punches and realize that some weeks we will accomplish all of our lessons, while other weeks, we may only work on character training. I keep my end goal in mind and take the next right step.
Create your “Back to the Basics” list
When I feel overwhelmed and want to throw in the towel, I re-read our homeschool mission statement to remember why we are homeschooling. And I revert to our “Back to the Basics” list. Instead of trying to accomplish everything, I focus on completing the items on our basics list. I’ve also seen this referred to as a minimum viable day. To create your own “Back to the Basics” list, work through these three steps.
- Make a list of your basics. This list should include subjects you need to cover or activities you need to do every day. Keep it short and attainable. This list will be what you follow when your husband is home or the day is just crazy.
- Write out your ideal school day, excluding supplemental subjects. This list should include the items on your basics list plus additional subjects you want to cover or activities you want to do when you can complete a full school day. Again, keep this list attainable. Aim to work through this list three days a week. If that is not possible, spread these subjects out over more days if needed.
- Make a list of supplemental subjects. This list can include subjects such as art, picture study, composer study, poetry, etc. As you have additional time on any of your school days (or a Saturday/Sunday if you all want to do something), work on the next item on the list during whatever time you have available. Rotate through the list, and eventually, you will be able to cover all of the subjects.
In the special episode of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, I answer a question a homeschool mom raised about how to do more than the basics in your homeschool.
Hold your plans loosely
Homeschooling our children is an adventure, and unfortunately, it does not come with a guidebook. In episode 23 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, Heather Haupt, a second-generation homeschooler, reminds us of the importance of making plans but holding them loosely.
Having a plan allows you to be intentional. Holding that plan loosely enables you to make changes as needed to help your children succeed and learn in their own way and at their own pace.
There are so many resources available to homeschool our children. It can be challenging to keep our focus. In episode 15 of the All in a Homeschool podcast, I share the four questions I ask myself to determine my motivation for making a change and tips to help you successfully make changes to your homeschool without becoming stressed.
How do I teach multiple ages at the same time?
In episode 78 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast I explained how I implemented a one-room schoolhouse model and used independent learner toolkits to manage the needs of multiple students. Here’s a highlight of what I covered.
Secret #1: Operate a one-room schoolhouse
When we began our homeschool journey, I wondered how I would teach my two daughters. As you can probably guess, I did a lot of research. I learned about families who implemented a one-room schoolhouse concept, and that really appealed to me. Here are highlights of how I implemented this concept in our homeschool.
- I taught as many subjects as possible to both of my children at the same time. Until my oldest was in high school, we covered everything together except math, copywork, and music instruction.
- For subjects that we covered together, I also assigned independent readings such as a biography to each child.
- I assigned my older daughter to help my younger daughter with some subjects.
- I scheduled time to work individually with each child.
Secret #2: Utilize independent learner toolkits
One aspect of operating a one-room schoolhouse that I appreciate is that my children learn to work independently. While I worked with one daughter on an individual subject, my other daughter worked on her individual lesson or engaged in a quiet activity. This is where secret #2 comes in.
When I was working with one daughter, the other one was not supposed to interrupt us. To put your mind at ease, the students in my homeschool are real children and therefore do not always do what they are supposed to do! They did interrupt sometimes, and this is how the independent learner toolkit concept evolved. I needed an activity to keep the child who needed my help quiet and engaged until I could help her.
I pulled together educational activities they could do on their own and that were quiet. Examples include:
- Reading picture books
- Looking through nature field guides
- Map drill practice
- Using learning wrap-ups
- Doing a dot-to-dot book
- Dover coloring books related to a current subject
- Math drill activities
- Poetry books
- Drawing supplies
- Grids for Kids math puzzles
- KenKen puzzles
- Printable puzzles
You could put many activities into an independent learner toolkit depending on the ages, needs, and abilities of your children.
Do you have questions about homeschooling?
Watch the FREE Homeschool 101 Workshop. It’s an on-demand workshop you can watch at your convenience.
Ready to start homeschooling but not sure how?
Check out the Homeschool Roadmap. It walks you through establishing your homeschool with confidence and joy, one step at a time.